What Is Emotional Trauma?

what is emotional trauma

Studies have found time and time again that people who experience interpersonal trauma are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder. It’s believed that many people turn to substances to help cope with traumatic experiences. 

Trauma can impact your whole life. However, it’s also important to understand that there are many types of trauma, including emotional trauma. 

What is emotional trauma? Keep reading to learn more.  

What Is Emotional Trauma?

Emotional trauma is a deeply distressing and overwhelming experience. It leaves a lasting impact on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being.

Emotional trauma can be caused by various traumatic events. These could include the following: 

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Natural disasters
  • Accidents
  • The sudden loss of a loved one

Unlike physical trauma which primarily affects the body, emotional trauma targets the mind and emotions. It can result in feelings of fear, helplessness, shame, guilt, anger, or sadness. 

These feelings can persist long after the actual event has occurred. In addition, they may manifest in different ways for different individuals.

For example, some might develop anxiety disorders or depression. Others may struggle with trust issues or have difficulty forming healthy relationships.

One of the key aspects of emotional trauma is its ability to disrupt an individual’s sense of safety and security. This disruption often leads to a state of hypervigilance where individuals are constantly on edge and anticipating potential threats. This heightened state of arousal can significantly impact daily functioning and quality of life.

Why Does Trauma Impact Everyone Differently?

Why does trauma impact everyone differently? It’s a question that many people ask when trying to understand the complex nature of emotional trauma. The truth is, several factors contribute to how an individual responds and copes with traumatic events.

Unique Life Experiences

Each person has their own unique set of life experiences that shape their perception of the world. This means that what may be traumatizing for one person, might not have the same effect on another. Our upbringing, cultural beliefs and personal values influence how we interpret and process traumatic events.

Coping Mechanisms

Our individual coping mechanisms also come into play. Some individuals have learned healthy ways to handle stress and trauma in their lives.

Others may not have had the opportunity or resources to develop these skills. This can cause them to struggle more with the aftermath of a traumatic event.

Support Systems

Having a strong network that offers understanding and empathetic support can make a significant difference in healing from emotional wounds. This can include:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Therapists

Conversely, lacking adequate support can exacerbate feelings of isolation and despair.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Pre-existing mental health conditions can interact with trauma in different ways. Someone who already struggles with anxiety or depression may be more susceptible to developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing trauma compared to someone without any pre-existing conditions.


Societal factors such as stigma surrounding mental health issues can also affect how individuals respond to trauma. Fear of judgment or discrimination may prevent some from seeking help or talking openly about their experiences.

Signs It’s Time to Seek Help

Recognizing when it’s time to seek help for emotional trauma can be a challenging and deeply personal decision. However, certain signs may indicate it’s time to reach out for support.

It’s important to remember that seeking help is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s a courageous step toward healing and recovery.

Struggling With Daily Activities 

If you’re having trouble with daily tasks or feeling overwhelmed, it could mean emotional trauma is affecting you. This could manifest as difficulty concentrating, experiencing memory lapses, or feeling constantly fatigued.

Changes In Your Mood

If you notice persistent changes in your mood or emotions it could be a sign it’s time to seek help. Watch for the following signs:

  • Feelings of sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Frequent mood swings
  • An overall sense of emptiness and hopelessness


Another sign that it’s time to seek help is if you’re avoiding situations or people that remind you of the traumatic events. Avoidance behaviors can include the following:

  • Isolating yourself from social interaction
  • Withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities
  • Numbing the pain through substance abuse

Negative Impact on Relationships

If your emotional trauma is causing problems in your relationships, you should consider seeking help. This could include strained relationships or struggles with forming new connections. 

Nightmares or Flashbacks

Experiencing flashbacks or nightmares related to the traumatic event can be incredibly distressing. If these intrusive memories continue to disrupt your daily life and cause significant distress long after the initial incident, therapy can help

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Unhealthy coping mechanisms may develop as a way to numb or avoid painful feelings associated with the trauma. These could include the following:

  • Substance abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Emotional eating
  • Isolation 
  • Excessive alcohol consumption 

If you find yourself relying on these behaviors to cope, seeking professional help can provide healthier coping strategies.

Working Through Emotional Traumas

Working through emotional traumas can be a challenging and often lengthy process. To do this, you need patience and the courage to face difficult feelings and memories.

Acknowledging the Existence of Emotional Trauma

The first step in working through emotional trauma is acknowledging its existence. This may involve recognizing the impact that past experiences have had on your current mental and emotional well-being.

It’s important to permit yourself to feel all of the emotions associated with your trauma, even if they are uncomfortable or overwhelming.

Seek Support

After you recognize your emotional trauma, getting help from a therapist can really help. They can provide a safe space for you to explore your feelings. They can also help with coping mechanisms and developing healthy strategies for managing triggers.

In addition to professional help, building a strong support system consisting of trusted friends and family members is crucial. Surround yourself with people who validate your experiences without judgment. This can help foster healing and growth.


Another helpful technique for addressing emotional traumas is practicing self-care. Choose activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction. This could include the following:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Hobbies

Oftentimes, these activities can provide much-needed relief from distressing thoughts and emotions.

Be Patient

It’s essential to remember that healing takes time. There will likely be ups and downs along the way as you work through your traumatic experiences.

Be patient with yourself during this process. It is natural to experience setbacks occasionally. You’ll need persistence and dedication. However, you will gradually find increased peace within yourself.

Treatment for Trauma and Substance Abuse

Remember that finding the right combination of treatments may take time. It’s a personal journey towards reclaiming one’s life after experiencing trauma alongside addiction.

With dedication and support, professionals can provide personalized treatment options to promote long-term healing.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

One commonly used treatment modality is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

The goal of this therapy is to help people recognize and alter harmful thoughts and actions related to trauma and addiction. Through CBT, clients can do the following:

  • Develop healthier ways of thinking
  • Address underlying issues contributing to their difficulties

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) 

EMDR combines talk therapy with bilateral stimulation techniques such as eye movements or taps. By processing traumatic memories while simultaneously engaging in these sensory activities, individuals may experience relief from distressing symptoms related to both trauma and substance use.

Group Therapy

Finding others who have faced similar challenges can make you feel validated, supported, and understood. Group therapy offers opportunities for the following:

  • Sharing experiences
  • Learning from others’ perspectives
  • Developing healthy relationships
  • Practicing effective communication skills

Ultimately, this helps with building a strong foundation for lasting recovery.

Complementary Therapy

During treatment, activities like yoga or meditation can improve overall well-being. These therapies promote relaxation, self-awareness, stress reduction, and emotional regulation. All of these are crucial aspects of healing trauma-related wounds while addressing substance use concerns.


Medication is another option for treating emotional trauma. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed.

These can help with managing symptoms and provide relief. However, it’s important to note that medication alone is not a cure for emotional trauma.

Why Choose a Trauma-Informed Treatment Program? 

A trauma-informed approach recognizes that traumatic events are often at the root of addiction. Individuals can better understand how trauma affects their lives by addressing underlying issues. They can also develop healthier coping mechanisms.

In addition, trauma-informed care ensures that individuals feel safe throughout their treatment experience. This includes providing privacy, confidentiality, and physical safety to help avoid retraumatization.

Start Your Journey Toward Recovering From Trauma and Addiction

What is emotional trauma? Emotional trauma is a deeply distressing and overwhelming experience that can leave a long-term impact. 

Working through emotional traumas takes time and patience. It involves acknowledging past hurts, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and building resilience. With the right support system in place, individuals can regain control over their lives and find inner peace.

Are you struggling with trauma and addiction? Purpose Healing Center understands that these conditions impact every area of your life. We offer holistic treatment for addiction and dual diagnosis. 

Contact us today to find out more about how we can help on your journey to recovery.